Supreme Court and Aaliyah Agree: “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number”

By Victor Corral Jun 19, 2008

Old people are cool. They use weird words like “moving pictures,” “haberdashery,” and “whippersnapper.” Well, today, these lovable codgers can add another word to their repertoire, “victory.” In a 7-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that in workplace age discrimination cases, the burden of proof rests on the employers and not the employees. In his ruling, Justice Souter wrote that “there is no denying that putting employers to the work of persuading fact-finders that their choices are reasonable makes it harder and costlier to defend” age-bias accusations, and therefore it will make them think twice about engaging in such practices. The case in question involved 31 employees of a federal research laboratory who were let go during downsizing. Of the employees fired, all but one was over the age of 40. They contended that the reasons why they were fired were not justifiably equitable, and they disproportionately affected the older workers. This ruling has important implications because older workers have a particularly tough time finding jobs after involuntary unemployment. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, “displaced workers face difficulty finding new employment; when they do find work, their new jobs pay, on average, about 13% less than the jobs they lost, and more than one-fourth of those who had health insurance on their old jobs don’t have it at their new ones.” For many, this leads straight to homelessness. A 2005 survey found that 10.3% of the nation’s sheltered homeless persons were between 51 and 61 years old. Given the sour state of the economy, the astronomical price of health care, gas, and food, it’s good to know that as companies seek to downsize, older workers, especially those with health problems or near retirement, have a new layer of protection.